Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"...the price is cheap..."

“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite

This article was in the local paper, The Peru Tribune, last fall. Nothing has changed since I wrote it, so here it is if you missed it. Thanks for coming by.

It’s about the library.

You know where it is—it’s the big old building on the corner of Main and Huntington. It’s been remodeled in the past year so that the children’s floor is bright and cheery and the tables and desks on the adult floor are refinished and waiting for you. There’s room between the stacks to get around and plenty of places to sit and read the paper and decide if you really do want to read the book by a new author in your hands or if you want to stick to the tried-and-true.

If you have things to look up, there’s a handy-dandy reference room back there to do it in. There are computers for everyone’s use and all kinds of paper-and-ink books you can lose yourself in. More tables and chairs and pens and scrap paper to make notes on. One of those books, the 1875 History of Miami County, led to my third or fourth book (you forget after while), Home to Singing Trees. Most of the history in my book came straight from that other big one, only I used my own words. (To have used someone else’s is plagiarism. I learned that word early on. In the library.)

I’ve written something like 14 books now. Some with a large publisher, some with a smaller one, some released on my own. Writing books is one of those things that’s kind of like a good pizza—it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. You probably won’t get rich, but you’re going to have a good time and you’re guaranteed some satisfaction that comes from inside.

Before I wrote those books—and while I was writing them—I wrote a column for the Peru Tribune, “Window Over the Sink.” It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing and I’d still be doing it if the climate in newspapering hadn’t changed. I wrote feature articles, too, and had a few stories in magazines.

I didn’t go to college. I didn’t “know” anyone. But I had good teachers—thank you, North Miami—and I had the library. If it hadn’t been for those two components, my life would have been very different.

Would it have been ruined? Nope. I’d still have my family, maybe the job I retired from, our home. Would it have been less? Yeah, I think so.

I wouldn’t have written 14 books (and still counting). I wouldn’t have written a couple hundred newspaper columns. I wouldn’t have spoken to other would-be writers and said “yes, you can.” Because I wouldn’t have known it. I learned it from those teachers, whose names I can still recite to you 50 or so years later if you want to hear them, and from what’s inside buildings like the one at the corner of Main and Huntington in Peru, Indiana.

It’s easy to get a library card. Just take your ID in and fill out an application. And, if you live outside the city limits, pay $75.


Now, personally, I don’t think that’s a big price for a year of being able to borrow books, audio-books, movies, and music from the library. However, that’s just me. If my three kids still lived at home, it would be $300 for the four of us and the truth is we probably wouldn’t have done it even if it meant they got to borrow books on their very own card and they got to take part in a Summer Reading Program that’s just like that pizza I mentioned earlier—all it’s cracked up to be. However, kids are weird; they have to eat and wear clothes and their shoe sizes change every two weeks--$225 for their library cards would have been a prohibitive expense.

But if we paid a tax to the library the way city residents do, it wouldn’t be. I’m just like everyone else in that I don’t want to pay more taxes, but the cost of supporting the library would be pretty small if it were spread out. And the payoff would be huge.

I know—yes, I really do—that there are those of you who won’t want to pay a library tax because you’re not going to use the library. You are the same ones who don’t want to pay school taxes because you don’t have kids in school. Well, just as I thank you for helping pay those school taxes so that all of those who attend county schools can do so, I would also thank you for paying a tax that would grant library privileges to county residents.

The kid over there in the third row in English class? He’ll thank you, too, when he’s writing his fourteenth book and his two-hundredth column because you and the other people who cared about the kids in this county paid those taxes. He’ll talk to kids in classrooms and library meeting rooms and he’ll say “yes, you can” because he came from somewhere that cared enough to take care of their own.

Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

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